Republicans turn on each other amid post-Roe chaos
“This bill is just another bill that regulates abortion, which is baby murder, that it says if you do this, if you meet this requirement, you can still kill your baby,” Indiana state representative John Jacob said during the debate. “There is still time to return to God before it is too late and repent, and I will still pray for repentance for this room.”
The latest Republican power struggle over abortion could prove fleeting for the party heading for the November election, when the political wind should be at its back. In addition to hammering Democrats on inflation and the economy, many Republicans — especially in state legislatures — are turning against each other. It has created a debilitating situation for governors trying to bridge the gap between more moderate and conservative members of their party, while showing voters their willingness to have an abortion.
“What Republicans need to worry about is, what’s their branding going to be? Not just about this — we’ve already seen an erosion in the suburbs of cultural issues that helped Democrats,” said former Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, who led the NRCC. “That’s the problem, when people are encouraged… it takes a rational discussion off the table. That’s where we are.”
The vitriol has left some Republican lawmakers reeling, forced to defend their anti-abortion bona fides in front of voters and friends.
In South Carolina, a Republican lawmaker pledged to “publicly name names” if one of his colleagues tried to “water down” the state’s proposed abortion ban, with exceptions.
And in West Virginia, a Republican lawmaker took to the Senate floor to remove his colleagues’ bill to ban nearly all abortions. because it removed the criminal penalties for doctors performing the procedure and did not include strong enough reporting requirements for rape and incest cases.
“We hear a lot here that making legislation is the same as making sausage, and I’m going to tell you that here is not the kind of sausage you want to use for your biscuits and gravy,” said West Virginia State Sen. Robert Karnes. “This is a rancid sausage. It’s full of maggots – very little meat in this sausage, lots of teeth and toenails, maybe. This is not a pro-life bill. This is a pro-abortion law.”
To some, the whiplash feels absurd. In South Carolina last month, an ad hoc legislative committee briefly debated and then swiftly voted to table an amendment that would have introduced criminal penalties for possession of abortion pills — indicating that criminal penalties for pregnant people are a third track. are that most Republican lawmakers still aren’t willing to touch.
But South Carolina Rep. Micah Caskey, who sits on the committee charged with drafting a new abortion ban, said Republican lawmakers are feeling increasing pressure to support more restrictive abortion proposals or they will lose the “pro-life” label.
“I view all of this with frustration and disdain for the crayon-level discussion of our public discourse on this issue,” Caskey said. “I was told that a year ago I was a mad fan of supporting a six-week suspension, and now the goal post has moved so that if I don’t support a full and total ban, I’m not a pro. -to live?”
South Carolina’s proposal awaits a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, of which Rep. John McCravy, the chairman of the ad hoc committee, said it could happen next week. West Virginia lawmakers have not scheduled a conference committee to reconcile the differing versions of the anti-abortion law passed by the House and Senate last month.
Republicans at the federal level are similarly divided on how vigorously the issue should be tackled.
Immediately after the Supreme Court decision, former Vice President Mike Pence called on Congress to pass a national abortion ban. But the National Republican Senatorial Commission urged candidates to act lightly and emphasize that it is an issue now in the hands of state and local officials – a position that has sparked the ire of anti-abortion advocacy groups.
“It’s unfair to say you’re against any federal involvement in abortion because it’s already a federal issue,” argued Kristi Hamrick, spokesperson for Students for Life, which lobbies lawmakers for a national abortion ban from six weeks of pregnancy. “Look at the Title X program, which gives money to Planned Parenthood. Look at our foreign aid.”
Some Republicans fear a political backlash if they ban abortions — even with exceptions — especially after Kansas voters overwhelmingly rejected a constitutional amendment last Tuesday that would have allowed their legislatures to ban the procedure. At the same time, they are facing pressure from an emerging, hard-core anti-abortion advocacy community that has vowed not to blink political leaders in a post-mortem.roe world.
“State and local politics have always been important for people to engage in, but some of them have just forgotten that fact,” Danielle Underwood, a leader of the Kansas amendment campaign and the Kansans for Life group, told POLITICO prior to the vote.
Even states where a trigger ban made abortion illegal shortly after the Supreme Court ruling have been unable to sidestep the debate. In South Dakota, the Republican Government Promised Kristi Noem the Day roe was quashed to call a special session to strengthen the state’s abortion ban – what some believe has loopholes lead to “secret abortions” — before saying it wasn’t necessary because the state is already “the most pro-life state in the nation.”
On Monday, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts said he would not call a special session because Republicans do not have the votes they need to pass a 12-week abortion ban, a reality he called “deeply saddening.”
Democrats, meanwhile, have largely united around protecting access to the procedure and trying to portray Republicans as enemies of women’s rights. But there are also divisions on the left.
Progressives want more aggressive action from the Biden administration — such as renting federal buildings or land in red states to abortion providers, allowing people to bring abortion pills from Mexico and Canada, and ordering the VA to provide abortions to all veterans and their family members. But moderates, including some who say they personally oppose abortion, are calling for an easy recovery Roe.
The tension can be seen in the Senate, where a bipartisan bill led by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) to codify roe has come under fire from progressives and abortion rights groups who fear it would still allow states to impose too many restrictions.
But because there is no way to pass that or any other abortion bill, the Democrats’ internal split is less at stake than their GOP counterparts, some of whom are in special sessions discussing abortion laws and know their actions come under greater scrutiny.
“It’s one thing to put it into practice. It’s another thing to actually do it. For all the energy, excitement and emotional expenditure around the heart rate bill, there is definitely a more concrete sense that what we’re doing here is going to take effect and be the law of the land in a way that is different from the heart rate bill,” Caskey said, referring to the six-week ban he supported last year.
So far, some of the most intense debates have centered on whether or not to allow abortions in cases of rape and incest. Only five of the 13 states — Idaho, Mississippi, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming – with trigger bans on the books when roe was destroyed included exceptions to rape or incest, highlighting how the Republican Party has moved away from supporting such exceptions.
During a Senate Committee hearing on the bill in Indiana, Courtney Turner Milbank, general counsel for the Indiana Right to Life, denounced the legislation as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” in part because of the rape and incest exceptions, saying it was “utterly fails to limit abortions even the exceptions it deems acceptable.” Ultimately, the organization said it could not fully endorse the legislation, but praised the House for “all they could do to [the bill’s] exceptions.”
While the data shows that these waivers are rarely used and difficult to obtain, some anti-abortion lawmakers believe they can. become loopholes unless there are strict requirements to report the crime to law enforcement before the abortion. Others are outright against such exceptions.
But those lawmakers are being met by colleagues who worry that without laws that make exceptions for rape and incest, voters, even those who are nominally against abortion, will be cool for the party’s reach — especially after the high-profile case of a 10 -year-old Ohio rape victim who had to travel from Ohio to Indiana earlier this summer for an abortion.
“I don’t think people care about what their voters think about this bill,” said Indiana Republican Senator Vaneta Becker, who voted against the abortion ban. “I think it’s going to be an ongoing challenge for Republicans.”
Nearly half of Indiana House Republicans joined Democrats in rejecting an amendment that would have removed exceptions to rape and incest.
These debates are welcome, said Mallory Carroll, a SBA Pro-Life America leader who insists her movement is in a better place now, with anti-abortion lawmakers having heated debates about laws that could go into effect now that that. roe disappeared than it was when the legislature was issuing bills that everyone knew would be blocked in federal court.
“This is the sloppiness of democracy. This is the kind of political discourse that Americans are denied under roe‘ said Carol. “Better this messy democracy than judiciaries making decisions that take half a century to undo.”